GIS Hitches 1 - 3

Hitch Dates: 6/17 - 7/25

by Douglas Scoch

The GIS hitch was new for this year and a bit different from most of the other hitches. Rather than the typical two weeks, GIS went for six continuous weeks due to the nature of the assignments.  I spent those weeks in the Salmon office of the Forest Service, working with staff in the GIS department on a variety of projects. Of all the projects, the one that seemed to occupy the most time (in part because it was also fun to work on) was a new brochure and map for the Bighorn Crags – a popular area in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness.  The last update of the map was from 1973 and although the mountains had not changed much, some of the trails had changed, as had mapping technology.  With the trails already GPS’ed, no additional fieldwork was required, and I could start putting the map together immediately. One feature the rangers requested was elevation profiles along popular routes. This was a challenge since I had never done it before and the workflow is unintuitive, involving exporting data out of ArcMap, into Excel, then into Powerpoint, and then back into ArcMap.  There were a lot of similarly convoluted tricks to make the map look the way it does, from polygons under the contour labels that don’t actually display but exist to mask the line under them for better legibility, to transparent imagery on top of transparent hillshading on top of transparent landcover (none of which actually looks the same when it is printed versus on the screen), and a whole series of invisible boxes hiding various text that the ArcMap PDF exporter draws where it shouldn’t because it is glitchy like that. 

Another project was a set of fire history maps for the North Zone, South Zone, and Frank Church Wilderness with surrounding forests showing all of the fires in the area since 1980.  The main design challenge was to symbolize and label all of the major fires even though many fires took place in the same areas. Large complexes like last year’s Mustang fire might have dozens of other fires beneath them, so including all of that information while still having a functional map took a lot of adjustment as well as many hours changing labeling settings and eventually placing annotation. Trying to fit four dimensions into two dimensions and make it legible was fairly tedious, but hopefully the end result is useful for future fire planning. Some other mapping projects included a set of 24k topo maps for the Leadore ranger district made using Data Driven Pages, a new reference index for topo maps, and an update of trails annotation for use in the next version of the visitor use map.

Altogether this was a very worthwhile hitch and I will miss working with GIS as extensively on future hitches. On the other hand it will be nice to get out and see some of the places that so far I have only seen on a printed map or computer screen. There were no scenic landscapes or wildlife to take pictures of on this hitch, but below is one of the maps described above.